Basically, much of Portugal's cheap housing stock is impossible to keep warm, which combined with high-ish fuel costs means that 20% of people can't keep their houses warm and hundreds freeze to death each winter:
We used about twice as much electricity in January as in any other month, because we were occasonally running a fan heater if it was getting close to 10°C indoors. But there's no insulation, no built-in heating or AC or anything in the flat, so we do just wear jumpers and blankets for a couple of months in winter, and beachwear for a couple of months each summer."As a result of this, approximately 75 percent of the 1.5 million buildings in Portugal that have energy efficiency certificates don't meet the required guidelines for warmth," Gouveia said. "We expect that the two-thirds of the building stock that remains uncertified is actually much, much worse."
Portugal has some of the highest electricity prices in the bloc — 21 cents per kilowatt-hour, including fees and taxes — and the eighth-highest natural gas prices in the EU — 6 cents per kWh — which makes heating inefficient homes an out-of-reach luxury for many in a country where the average monthly salary is just €970.
"In well-insulated homes in Northern Europe one barely has to run the radiator to keep warm, but living comfortably in poorly built homes here requires keeping oil or electric radiators running all day," said Francisco Ferreira, president of Zero, a Portuguese environmental NGO. "When we had a cold snap in January people easily racked up bills of over €240 a month just to have one 200-watt radiator running."
The experts seem to agree with my "nothing doing" assessment:
Something we probably could manage is to have one room (the lounge) insulated well, and just keep the door shut all winter.In Portugal, after decades of institutional indifference, Prime Minister António Costa's government has also taken steps to address the issue with automatic discounts applied to low-income residents' electricity and gas bills. New legislation includes a plan to invest €300 million a year in boosting building insulation with the aim of renovating 69 percent of the country's building stock by 2050.
But experts say that those measures are unlikely to make a serious difference for nearly 2 million Portuguese citizens exposed to extreme cold in their homes every year.
"This isn't really a problem you can solve with discounts because in many cases no amount of energy expense will address the issue," said Aline Guerreiro, CEO of the Sustainable Construction Portal, an initiative that promotes best practices in energy-efficient construction in Portugal. "The investment strategies are also unlikely to make a dent because they're co-financed projects, meaning homeowners would have to invest cash they don't have in the renovation schemes."
"You have to replace thin, aluminum-framed windows, redo roofs, insulate walls ... We're talking about sums of money that would make it difficult for most Portuguese families to afford," she said. "Getting the residents of an entire building to agree to spend that sum is unthinkable."
Guerreiro added that renovation wouldn't even be a realistic option for many buildings where it would cost more to make them energy efficient than to rebuild them from scratch.
I wouldn't really call our situation "fuel poverty" as we would be able to afford to buy another/better heater and run it a bit more often (and we do get the subsidy), but I thought the article was an interesting writeup, and I expect the same kinds of issues apply elsewhere in southern Europe.